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Busted Scotch

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The title of this collection of 35 highly original stories by the Booker Prize-winning author of How late it was, how late comes from a one-page vignette about an unnamed Scot in a cabaret who blows his week's wages on one hand of blackjack‘and he's one of the sunnier of his countrymen on display here. From the pool-hall habitués of "Remember Young Cecil" to the hallucinating alcoholic of "O Jesus, Here Come the Dwarfs," to the emotionally crippled young father of "By the Burn," Kelman's protagonists are desperate, angry people who live in industrialized settings that afford them no breathing space or peace of mind. Despite fancying himself a "natural born beggar," the narrator of "Not Not While the Giro" finds himself so hard up for a smoke that he sucks his thumb to taste the nicotine residue there. Even his dreams are feeble: he longs to become an enigmatic figure who, with his feet, traces the coastline of Scotland while living off the good graces of the townsfolk he meets. Kelman is a brilliant aural portraitist‘with the rhythm of his countrymen's speech apparently ingrained on his psyche‘and a writer utterly unfazed by risk. (One story trails off mid-rant, another transforms a man's pushing his son into a vat of acid into an act of love.) Thirteen of these stories have appeared previously in the States (10 in Greyhound for Breakfast), but even these are worth re-reading. All told, this collection provides a tasty sampling of Kelman's finest fancies. (May) FYI: Kelman will take part in a five-city Great Scots Reading Tour, along with Irvine Welsh and Duncan McLean.

The Scotsmen in these stories and fragments (some no more than a paragraph or two) by Booker Prize winner Kelman live in squats, caravans, and tenements, on the dole and on the edge. They would be working-class if they worked, but they're layabouts and idlers who prefer to sponge off their mates and neighbors. The narrator of "Not While the Giro" considers himself a late starter, but, by most standards, he's a nonstarter. He worries that he's losing his mind, but his very self-awareness convinces himself otherwise as he muses, "Often I sit by my window in order to sort myself out--a group therapy within." In "A Situation," a boarding house tenant is asked down to the room of an elderly invalid who confesses to an old crime of industrial sabotage while the younger man is haunted by his own secret, an infidelity with his girlfriend's sister. The reader may not wish to know these characters well but will be grateful for the opportunity of this brief meeting. Recommended for literary collections.‘Barbara Love, Kingston P.L., Ontario

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